Friday, 27 February 2009

Margaret Thatcher

I have an admission to make, last night I watched the BBC2 programme Margaret, there I've said it and would you believe it the world hasn't imploded.  

Why am I sharing this terrible secret with you? Well for those of you who didn't live through, or were having too much fun at the time and can't remember the Thatcher years, it may seem a strange thing to be so secretive about. But just try something for me - the next time you are talking to your parents/grandparents or any one over 50 that you know reasonably well, ask them if they ever voted for Maggie Thatcher's government.  I can guarantee that the answer will be a resounding NO.  I have never met a soul who will admit to be a Conservative supporter in the 80's and 90's - strange, when she was Prime Minister for almost 11 years.  But it's just something that nobody will admit to.

Did I ever vote for Maggie? Honestly the answer is no. 

As a card carrying member of the then Liberal Party I would never have dreamt of voting Conservative but, and this is a big but, I was tempted.  After all she was running to be the first ever woman Prime Minister of this country.  I, along with many of my friends, thought that this would be the turning point for women in this country.  No longer would Westminster be dominated by the old guard, the men in suits who ran the country as if it was their own private club.  I really believed that the doors of boardrooms throughout the land would be opened up to talented professional woman for the first time.  I imagine we felt much like Barack Obama's supports felt, this could be our time and believe me like America in 2008, this country in the 1970's was ready for change.

With hindsight though I can't believe how naive we were.  Maggie didn't open up doors for woman, she made sure that they were firmly shut in our faces.  Her hectoring and that incessant bullying tone of hers were legendary and the worst insult any young woman in business could be called was a Thatcherite (or possibly a raving feminist, but that's an other story).  The problem was that dear Mrs Thatcher didn't believe in sexual equality, she believed that she was better than any man. She ran the country as she ran her Cabinet, there could be no dissension, no discussion, no exchange of ideas, it was her way or noway.  She was a tyrant with a perm.

She was personally responsible for the emasculation of the Trade Union movement in this country, she shut the coal mines, destroyed the steel industry and decimated the docks and because of her actions in deregulating the City she is inadvertently partly responsible for the mess the banking system is in now.

During the 70's and 80's I was working in the City of London and saw first hand the effects of that Conservative government.  The Fat Cats were getting fatter and the 'boys' in the City were spending money like it was going out of fashion.  And all this was going on in a country where whole communities were being destroyed through unemployment.  In some of the old coal mining towns the despair was palpable.  Grown men were crying themselves to sleep because they couldn't see a way of ever getting back into work.  Many woman were working very long hours in degrading low paid jobs just to pay the rent and put food on the table while young City Dealers and Traders were drinking Bubbly at lunch time while arguing for a good deal on their latest new Porsche on their new fangled mobile phones.

Last night's drama concentrated on the eleven days leading up to Maggie's spectacular fall from power. Watching it brought back many memories for me of those days; from working in the City to getting married and eventually becoming a parent, all to the backdrop of Poll Tax riots, mass unemployment and the rise of a 'New Home Owning Democracy'.  It was a strange time to live through if you had any kind of social conscience and the one memory I will hold of the Drama is that of a defeated Thatcher sitting at the kitchen table in Number 10 sobbing.  I would like to believe that happened but somehow I doubt it, after all the woman who wasn't for turning certainly wasn't human.

If you missed the programme you catch it for the next 6 days on the BBCiplayer

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Galaxy Zoo 2

For the past week I have found a brilliant excuse not to get on with the  novel, I have been classifying galaxies, and before you think that I have gone totally gaga let me explain. On the news the other morning I heard a chap explaining how Oxford University wanted 'ordinary' people to look at images of distant galaxies and classify them using a relatively simple set of criteria.  

Apparently this only the second time that this sort of thing has been done on such a large scale - the last project which was called just Galaxy Zoo, had 150,000 volunteer classifiers and the Oxford team were so impressed by the results that they have just launched the sequel, Galaxy Zoo 2.

Now I'm not particularly scientifically inclined (just ask my son!) nor am I a techie whizz (again ask said son) but when Dr Chris Lintott ( a Postdoctoral Researcher in Astrophysics) said that while Astrophysicists seem to have problems following the instructions for new classifiers on the website, the average 6 year old didn't, so it looked like I might be OK.  In fact the only problem I have had so far (apart from spending far too much time on the site and not enough time writing the novel) is that I made a right fool of myself yesterday when I tried to post a message onto one of the forums and couldn't attach an image to it.  (You use the forums to show something odd/strange in a Galaxy you have been classifying)

Now rather than bore you all to death with pictures of my favourite Galaxies and yes I am building quite a little portfolio of favourites, I will just say that while there has been much discussion on the forums about 'muffins' I feel that I might be the first to report a 'chili'.

You might need to squint to see it in the top right hand corner of the picture - I have taken to squinting at all the images - note to self; I really must get better lighting around the computer!

I will let you know if anyone comes back to me on my ground breaking discovery - so far the only messages I've had on the forum are those trying to explain to me how to attach an image - duhh, I don't think that I'm impressing them with my limited grasp of technology...


Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Have you been wondering what 'Fat Cats' get paid?

Bosses' pay in 2007 at UK banks now receiving government support pay at UK banks receiving government  pay at UK banks receiving g
Sir Fred GoodwinGroup chief executive£4,190,000

Peter CummingsChief executive, corporate division£2,606,000

Lloyds TSB  
J Eric DanielsGroup chief executive£2,884,000

Bradford & Bingley  
Steven CrawshawGroup chief executive£1,112,548

Northern Rock  
Adam ApplegarthChief executive£785,000

Infact if you take all the Bosses' salaries for 2007, in just the banks that are now taking Government handouts, it comes to an eye-watering £22,651,120 and remember this is JUST the big bosses - the top 12 men in these companies.  This figure doesn't include any other Directors or staff, just these 12 men (no women you will notice).  

And what's so special about 2007?  well apart from the fact that these banks were going to hell in a handcart because of their involvement in the sub-prime market, this is the last year of accounts available.  

The 2008 accounts are now being reported with Barclays leading the way with a profit of £6.1 bn and what will they be paying out in salaries and bonuses? Well accouring to Forbes, Barclays are slashing the bonuses they'll pay out by 50%.  Gosh that sounds good I hear you say, Barclays are taking this situation seriously but wait, earlier this year the Guardian reported that the Chief Executive of Barclays Capital, Bob Diamond, was in line for a bonus of £14.8m and no that's not a typing error - he was expected to receive a wopping £14,800,000 but now we hear that Barclays will not be paying any Bonuses to their Executive Directors. Don't feel too sorry for Bob though, I'm sure that he has some cash left out of the £22m he was paid in 2006.  It is being reported in the Australian newspaper, The Age, that Barclays Capital are line to payout nearly £600m in bonuses for 2008 so maybe Bob will be lucky after all. 

Do you think  that's what Barclays Chief Executive John Varley means when he says that banks need to be "sensitive to the mood of the times."

Well if that's their idea of sensitivity I don't want to be around when they start playing hardball.  

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Dear Diary

I've never kept a diary, I've written numerous holiday journals and for the past couple of years I've rabbited away on this blog but I've never written in a proper diary.  I was about to say that I'm not sure why, but the real reason is that if I starting writing one then I would have to be honest about everything, feelings, emotions, relationships, everything and I don't think that I could do that.

No that's not true, I could do it, but then I would be terrified that somebody might read it.  After all what would people think of me if they knew that instead of being the kind of person who always believes that the cup is half full, they suddenly realised that sometimes I could scream about life not being fair and regret that I didn't have the courage to do things that might now have me living on the lap of luxury on a Caribbean island.

I couldn't cope with laying myself out to such scrutiny when the times I spend navel gazing are so infrequent.  Most of the time my cup really is half full, it's just now and again, usually after a disturbed night or bad news, that I could put my head in my hands and weep about how shitty life is.   Introspection would give me an ulcer, so I think that I am far better off looking on the bright side, keeping my chin up and occasionally topping up the half full glass.

There is a diarist I particularly admire though.  Alright Tit is the diary of a young woman who has been having treatment for breast cancer.  She writes with passion and humour about a subject that most of us, if we are honest, would prefer not to think about.  

The funny thing is that I only found her blog because of Twitter - Steven Fry again - 

I think it's fabulous that potentially millions of people all over the world can now read such an inspirational story just because they can access a computer.  

As I've said many times before, this interwebby thingy is a very strange place....

Monday, 2 February 2009

Murphy gets comfortable

It's cold outside and you've been playing in the snow since 7am so now it's time for a nap (is it any wonder my settee is looking it's age!) 

It's been snowing

Since Friday the Met Office has been telling us that we would have snow by Monday - guess what it's Monday and it's been snowing.  

To those of you living through the heatwave in Australia this might not sound a big deal but when I tell you that London has had its heaviest snowfall in 18 years you might just realise why the BBC thinks that it's such a big deal - you see all their journos live in London so without the expense and inconvenience of travelling outside the capital they can now report on how Britain is being effected by 'these extreme weather conditions'

All I'm waiting for now is for one little Henrietta at the Daily Mail who is a) too young to remember 6'' of snow in London and b) has never ventured any further north than Hampstead, to start moaning that this country is going down the pan because the buses in London haven't been running 'when in Sweden they have snow every winter and they don't loose a days productivity because of 6'' of the white stuff'  and without a doubt it's all going to be the fault of this Labour government and Gordon Brown in particular...

Well Henrietta, let me tell you that the reason that our continental neighbours don't grind to a halt each winter is because they know that it is going to snow  - they have snow ploughs and glugwein and chains for their tyres . Norwegians  are resigned to the fact that from November to March they will probably have to dig their cars out every morning.  We, on the other hand, have to wait 18 years for 6'' of snow in London , so what does Henrietta think that this government should do,  have snow ploughs parked up along the Embankment every winter just in case it snows in London? Does she even know that in Scotland has a thriving skiing scene? probably not, after all if it doesn't happen in London it doesn't count!

(Dave had an early meeting in London this morning  and rather than risk being stuck in Manchester airport at 5am this morning waiting for them to defrost the planes, he travelled down yesterday by train - guess what - he is the ONLY bugger who has managed to get to the meeting when all the others had only to travel across the capital)